Blog Symposium: Is trail running becoming too commercialized?

Is Trail Running Becoming Too Commercialized?

When I read the topic for this month, my initial gut reaction was, yes it is.  Trail running is supposed to be the simplest, purest form of running.  Lace up shoes, go explore nature, take in the sights and sounds of the trail.  Now we are told that we need the right nutrition, water packs, shoes, and clothes.  However, when I really think about what is commercialized here in the US, my response is, no.  Trail running really isn’t too commercialized, in fact it is bringing awareness to people, who otherwise wouldn’t otherwise know,  that there is a whole wonderful culture of runners, and places to run that do not require roads.

The reason my initial thoughts were yes, its too commercialized is probably because only 2-3 years ago I didn’t really think much of trail running. I didn’t know anyone who ran races on trails, outside of Colorado and other more mountainous areas.  I had never seen a commercial on tv, or ad in a magazine for trail running.  Up until recently trail runners always seemed to be the “strong silent types” of the running world.  They were the thru hikers that decided to get together and race an event.  Even when I first began running on trails near my house I would see people out hiking and walking their dogs more often than running. In the past year a local running store started a community running program to encourage road runners to get out on the trails and run, and our trail network now seems like a highway of runners on Saturday mornings.

In the last several years social media has exploded with trail running pictures, foods, supplements, shoes, gear, and race promotions.  Races have been selling out faster than we can hit the keys on our computers.  Though I have seen positive outcomes, more races are opening, more people are thinking about how they use and not abuse the trails.  Others have become aware how wonderful and important it is to keep our open spaces free from development.

All these changes, for me, made me feel like trail running must be getting too commercialized….

And then I realized, I feel like I see so much more about trail running in media because I seek it out now. I read Trail Runner Magazine, and Ultra Runner Magazine. I go online and read, and Of course I think all I see is the commercialization of trail running.  For the average American, however, they see little to nothing about trail running. They, instead, are bombarded with fast food, beauty and hygiene, and entertainment ads. Fast food spends billions of dollars yearly on their commercials, it would actually be pretty wonderful if even half of that money was put into promoting something as healthy as our sport; trail running. Imagine how healthy, relaxed and happy so many more Americans would be if they just got out to a local trail a few hours a day?!  If more people were interested in trail running, could more forests be saved and not turned into real estate, restaurants and shops?!

The purist in me would like to see trail running go back to being the little cult sport it seems it once was.  Its fun to be part of an activity that isn’t very mainstream, that not many people have done, and that “big business” hasn’t gotten a hold of.  A larger part of me is happy that so many other people are sharing in my excitement for trail running.  My running club puts on two trail races a year, the money we make gets donated to the park’s where the races are held.  Without all the hype and commercialization of trail running we wouldn’t have been able to donate much needed money to very underfunded state parks around.   I have run packet pick up several years now, and it makes my heart happy to see all the newbies out there excited to try something different.

Like anything else, as trail running becomes more popular it will also become more and more commercialized.  It is my hope that consumers will think about the races and the products they support and be mindful that as long as we treat the trails well,and respect them they will be around for us to enjoy for many years to come.



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